Music is one of those things that I’ve always appreciated in videogames, yet has just grown more and more important as I get older. For me, a good soundtrack can turn a good game into a great game and in some cases even elevate an average release into something more special. This is an article I’ve been planning for quite some time but have only just gotten around to writing – one that celebrates all the fantastic music available among Vita games; something I want to look back on in years to come to remember all the beautiful tracks that played while I was exploring the handheld’s great library.
The Vita has some great developers who really place music front-and-centre as part of a title’s presentation and as such the handheld has given birth to some amazing tracks. If this article gets a good feedback, I’d like to do some future pieces looking at the tracks available on PS1 & PSP games playable on Vita.
But for now and without further ado, let’s start looking at some of the best music out there on Vita!
So I decided to start my article by looking at possibly my favourite game studio ever, at least in terms of music – Gust. The JRPG development team behind the Atelier series have always had an incredible sound department who’ve created some amazing tracks, full of magical touches and beautiful instrumental use – indeed, their Ar Tonelico/Surge Concerto series is centred around heroines who can create magic spells by singing. It’s a blessing then that many of their titles have appeared on Vita – aside from them being fantastic games, they also have the killer soundtracks the studio is famous for.
Leading this charge is the latest game in the Surge Concerto series – Ar no Surge. The game kicks things off in beautiful fashion with the track “em-pyei-n vari-fen jang“, a fantastic vocal track performed by Origa that really serves to demonstrate the incredible audio experience gamers would be treated to. Later tracks like “yal fii-ne noh-iar” – a more up-beat song from slightly later in the game, continue this trend.
It isn’t just their Surge Concerto series that has great music, however – Atelier is also loaded with amazing tracks. Whether it’s the cheerful, upbeat opening credits song from Atelier Meruru – “Cloudy“; or the epic, sweeping final boss theme from Atelier Ayesha – “Maria“, the games just create a beautiful tapestry of sound that make crafting items and exploring new areas so magical.
But it’s one Atelier game in particular that absolutely nailed things in the soundtrack department for me – Totori. Full of so many memorable songs that I found myself whistling for hours after playing alongside many variations on familiar songs with slight tweaks to create a very different experience. A great example of this is the “Following the Footsteps” songs – the Forest version being more subdued and thought out while the Plains version being a more magical rendition that at times reminded me of the Wild ARMs series with a fantasy-western feel. Truly, the game creates some incredibly memorable tracks.
If there’s one studio that rival Gust in the sound department, then it’s Falcom. The historical Japanese developer, a stalwart supporter of Sony hardware since initially committing to the PSP back in 2006, has released multiple titles on the Vita since 2012, mixing in their trademark screeching electric guitar sounds with more traditionally epic tracks, to create some of the most beautiful music available on the handheld.
The first of their games we got in the west – Ys: Memories of Celceta – is easily their strongest in terms of sound. The franchise has been memorable throughout the years for some epic tracks and this entry is no different – whether it be an enjoyably addictive dungeon-crawling tune in “Underground Ruins” or the epic final boss theme “False God of Causality” providing a fantastic book-end to the massive enemies you’ll fight throughout the game, each is loaded with character.
Similarly, their work on the Legend of Heroes series is to be commended, even if the best stuff was held until the latter part of the game. Of note, the battle track “To become the foundation of an era” feels tense and exciting; while the final boss theme “The Decisive Collision” is up there among the best songs they’ve ever written, perfectly book-ending the first Trails of Cold Steel game.
The best part of all is that we’ve got two upcoming Falcom games to look forward to – Tokyo Xanadu and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. I’m purposefully avoiding listening to the OST’s for these titles so I can experience them first-hand while playing through the games, but I’m expecting them to be as good if not better than their existing work on Vita.
The DanganRonpa series
A revelation in its own right thanks to some tight, narrative-focused gameplay, the DanganRonpa series has also spawned some fantastic music ranging from tense class trial tunes to soothing exploration tracks. Chief among these is “Beautiful Days“, the beautiful and relaxing song that plays when exploring the school during the day that creates a calm, chilled atmosphere (which serves to contrast with the actual action once the murders start taking place). Things get a little more tense with “Trial Underground“, the preparation song which helps you prepare to take on your classmates in the class trials. Once in the trial, fantastic tunes like “Discussion -HEAT UP-” really highlight the thrills happening on screen.
Things peak even further in DanganRonpa 2. Taking place on a desert island, tracks like “Beautiful Ruin” capture this vibe with a Caribbean sound, easing you in to your new surroundings yet doing it with a familiar arrangement from the first game. The sequel in general lifts heavily from its predecessor, re-mixing leitmotifs with new purpose, something that works incredibly well. It’s the song “Ekoroshia“, however, that remains the highlight of the game – an incredibly exciting tune playing at the climax of the game’s web of confusion that has you solving a complex and unbelievable murder.
Although a weaker title in general (as you can read in my review), the spin-off mid-quel DanganRonpa Another Episode still features some great tracks, although a in a slightly different style than the other games. Starting with “Ultra Despair Girl”, the game’s main theme, things seem to have taken a more funky shift in a new direction; yet somehow the track remains instantly recognizable as something straight out of the DanganRonpa world. Exploration theme “Wonderful Dead” is a similarly funky track that remains addictive and mysterious – and as with the songs from the first and second games is remixed later on – “Wonderful Dead 4” is a more subdued yet beautiful version.
With the advent of DanganRonpa V3 almost upon us, I’m more than ready to be treated to some funky remixes of the series’ most famous songs with – hopefully – some great new tracks as well.
The Steins;Gate series
When your game relies heavily on narrative reading in order to progress, it’s almost a requirement that your soundtrack also be up to scratch to keep people interested. That’s very much what 5pb did with Steins;Gate, their beautiful tale of time travel gone wrong. Right off the bat they keep the gamer engaged thanks to the beautiful track “Gate of Steiner” – a menu theme that manages to be both mysterious and creepy yet sweeping and epic. This is continued through the opening credits song “Sky Clad Observer“, which starts off beautiful and instrumental yet mixes in vocals over time to creates a memorable track (and very reminiscent of the start of an anime). In general the whole soundtrack is very moving and it’s well worth a listen.
This focus on music is continued in the side-quel Steins;Gate 0, which heavily reuses tracks from the first game but does so in interesting new ways; as well as bringing new sounds of its own. The title theme “~Messenger~” is pretty much up there with “Gate of Steiner” as among the series’ best tracks – similarly spooky and creepy, yet very intriguing and addictive too. A later remixed version “~Messenger (piano)~” creates a heartbreaking spin on the pre-existing theme, showing the great ways that tracks can be changed to fit different moods.
I’m hopeful that the next game in the Science Adventure series that’s coming west – Chaos;Child – can live up to the musical high bar set by the Steins;Gate games.
The Hotline Miami series
Contrasting sharply with the majority of the other songs in this article – which tend to be delicately-composed tracks from Japanese developers, Dennaton Games – creators of Hotline Miami – decided to embrace the neon-soaked 80’s aesthetic of the game with a fitting soundtrack full of synth-heavy tracks. Songs like “Perturbator” frame the action on-screen perfectly – it’s just pure, enjoyable synth that you’ll be stopping to listen to before you finish a level. Similarly, “Knock” is a deeper synth track that still fits so well with the design being pushed that you can help but think about it long after the song has finished playing.
Alternatively, if you’d rather just chill out, “Horse Steppin’” is the ultimate relaxing song with its laid back beat; gentle synth and trippy vocal sounds.
The brilliance in music continues into the second game, with early tracks like “Divide” taking centre stage mixing unique sound effects and notes over a dirty, beautiful beat. The synth gets even deeper later on with songs like “Decade Dance“, which manages to be both subdued and thrilling, all the while remaining deeply addictive and catchy. Despite being the weaker game, I actually feel like Hotline Miami 2 comes out better than the first in soundtrack terms just to the sheer brilliance in experimentation.
A surprising game in general (considering the company developing it wasn’t anyone I’d heard of before Vita) that packed a killer violin-driven soundtrack, Demon Gaze remains one of Vita’s most under-rated games. From the opening notes of “Departure” – a very beautiful and lively track that hammers home the focus on string tracks, the game went from strength to strength in terms of it’s sound. This was continued with the menu theme “Memory”, a haunting music box-inspired tune that remains subdued yet beautiful throughout (and is one I really enjoy listening to in order to relax).
With Demon Gaze 2 out in Japan, let’s hope it’s on the horizon for western release so we can listen to more beautiful original music from the team at Experience Inc.
Epic Mickey 2
Forget the quality of the game itself – which was underwhelming despite expectations of a quality 3D platformer, or the quality of the port – which was sketchy at best on Vita; Epic Mickey 2 still managed to deliver one of the most gorgeous orchestral soundtracks on Vita. Tracks like “Yen Sid’s Lab”, which starts off delicate and sweet then crescendo into classical animated brilliance are a great introduction to the game; meanwhile other tunes like “Mean Street” sound much more creepy and mysterious, yet still retain that magical.
It’s fitting that a game celebrating Disney’s history would produce such a classically ‘Disney’ soundtrack full of touching moments and sweeping hooks, and it was even greater to see that represented on Vita.
Soundtracks for the LittleBigPlanet games have always maintained these strange space where parts are made up of original tracks while other bits use licenced tunes, yet somehow the two areas seem to mesh extraordinarily well due to great selections. This is extremely evident in the Vita iteration – original track highlights include “The Land of Marianne”, a cute, dreamy track that perfectly encapsulates the fantasy world it’s taking place in.
This is a feeling kept in the licenced tracks such as “Eyen” – a creepy, yet awesome piece of music by Plaid that perfectly frames the action happening on screen. Similarly “Ghost von Frost” fits perfectly with the spooky mansion the level takes place in, mixing well with the colour palette and level design of the area. If there’s one thing the LittleBigPlanet series consistently does – it’s choosing the most addictive yet fitting licenced music to include in their game.
Ignore what you may have heard about the game itself (which, by the way, is much better than people make out – check my review) – its presentation is absolutely top-notch and this extends to the soundtrack. Right from the moment you hit the countryside of Matsue and begin to look around, you’re accompanied by the gentle track “Over the Truth“, which crescendos halfway through into a much more exciting, adventure-focused theme. It’s a great introduction to the more subdued pieces the game has to offer – similarly “Sepia” is a sweet song that accompanies story revelations to create a calm, relaxed atmosphere at you piece together the puzzle of your missing pen pal.
That’s not to say the whole game is slow like this – “Stand Up” is a fantastic piece of piano-led music that plays to drive you forward into uncovering more of the plot; providing an upbeat backdrop to give you a real feeling that you’re pushing forward with the adventure. “Break Out” is the ultimate culmination of this – an investigation theme that’s exciting and tense and plays to show you’re really on to something in the plot. The heavy violin use fits perfectly with the background beats and combined with its two sister tracks – “Break Through” and “Break Down“, serves to highlight the investigations as the best part of the Root Letter experience.
When the opening notes of “Space is Everything” play, the first song on the soundtrack to Jeff Minter’s tube-shooter epic TxK, you can tell you’re in for an audio treat. The game doesn’t let up through a spree of techno; house and all manner of electronic tracks like “You Like” and “Noise Pulse” – it’s noisy; irreverent and yet so very, very good. And yet it isn’t just fast electronic beats that frame the action so well – slower tracks like “Fridgean” are achingly beautiful and show what a brilliant soundtrack can do to elevate a game.
It’s a shame Minotaur Project didn’t experience more on Vita, because their trippy electronic beats and fast-paced games seemed to work so well on the handheld.
And there’s so much more good game music out there too – Geometry Wars 3‘s songs are fantastically trippy and exciting in the likes of “Deadline” and “Titan“; Lost Dimension‘s tracks like “Origin” and the “Boss Theme” are beautiful and hectic; Irregular at Magic High School: Out of Order nails that 90’s fighting game theme vibe with through tunes like “Battle Garden” and “Sunshine Filtering through Foliage” (beautiful, very reminiscent of 90’s fighting game themes) while Super Stardust Delta hits some beautiful electro notes through tracks like “Alena” and “Yuriko“.
Trust me when I say there’s a world of fantastic Vita videogame music out there; and this is only the list from games I’ve actually played – I’m sure there’s much more worthy stuff out there that I just haven’t gotten round to yet.
So I hope you enjoyed my tour through the soundtrack highs of Vita, and perhaps it inspired you to go and listen to a few of them and discover what brilliance there is out there – let me know which ones are your favourites and some of your own favourites in the comments!